CHICAGO — A baseball agent has sued Merrill Lynch for allegedly conspiring to steer a superstar client to a rival agent Scott Boras just before the player landed a huge contract.
In February 2018, free agent slugger J.D. Martinez signed a five-year, $110 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. In a complaint filed May 10 in Cook County Circuit Court, agent Bob Garber, president of RMG Sports Group, sued Merrill Lynch; Pierce Fenner & Smith; and Bruce Lee, a financial adviser in Merrill Lynch’s Chicago office, alleging tortious interference with contractual relations.
According to Garber, he started representing Martinez in 2010, before his Major League Baseball debut on July 30, 2011. He said their most recent agreement was a one-year deal Martinez signed on April 13, 2017, at the start of the last year of a four-year contract with the Detroit Tigers. Under the deal, Garber’s agency earned 5 percent of Martinez’s gross baseball-related income.
Martinez, who made the all-star team with the Tigers in 2015, hit 45 home runs with 104 runs batted in over 119 games in 2017. The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired him via trade on July 18, and his offense helped propel the team to a 93-69 record and the top National League Wild Card spot.
Scott Boras MissChatter on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
Garber said he introduced Martinez and several other clients to Lee in March 2016, saying he was not just a financial adviser but also a family friend. Martinez hired Lee and Merrill Lynch to provide wealth management services. Garber also alleged Lee learned prominent agent Scott Boras was trying to lure Martinez away from RMG, had his staff research Boras and learned he had many clients who had MLB contracts exceeding $100 million.
“Upon learning of Boras’ impressive book of clients,” Garber alleged, “Lee decided to grab an opportunity to get a foothold into the lucrative list of baseball clients represented by Scott Boars by using Martinez as his bait.”
Garber said Lee and Martinez had several phone conversations in October 2017, days before the annual free agent signing period began, during which he allegedly “told Martinez to terminate his contractual relationship with RMG and Garber, telling Martinez, among other fabrications, that Bob is done, Bob is a hack and that Bob will sell him short.”
On Oct. 31, Martinez terminated his RMG contract, then signed with Boras. Garber alleged a November 2017 meeting Lee had with the Boras Corporation in Newport Beach, Calif., to discuss referrals for his financial advising services, saying “Lee’s plan worked.”
Martinez excelled with the Red Sox in the first year of his deal, leading the American League with 130 RBI and 358 total bases, making a second all-star team, finishing fourth in most valuable player voting and winning Silver Slugger awards as both an outfielder and designated hitter. The Red Sox went 108-54 in the regular season en route to winning the World Series.
According to the complaint, “Lee intentionally and unjustifiably induced Martinez to terminate his contract” with RMG, costing the agency its chance to earn 5 percent of Martinez’s $110 million deal, or $5.5 million. In addition to a jury trial, Garber seeks compensation and punitive damages. The complaint includes two formal counts of tortious interference with contractual relations, one against Lee individually and a second against Merrill Lynch.
Garber is represented in the matter by attorneys with the firm of Konicek & Dillon P.C., of Geneva.